14 October 2013

Baggage handler throws a spanner in the works

It’s bad enough when a baggage handler damages something of value in one of your bags. But this week a Heathrow’s lugger really took the biscuit. One of the baggage attendants working at London’s busiest airport caused a reported £4 million worth of damage – and narrowly avoided a catastrophe – when he threw a spanner in the works. Well, a scanner gun – same thing.

After the lugger left his tool on the engine cover it ended up getting sucked into the Airbus A320. Passengers had to wait three hours to catch another flight, but that was probably the least of their worries. If the mishap hadn’t been reported it could have caused a fatal accident on the jet. The worker in question is said to be “mortified” at the prospect.

Last month a BA flight had to make an emergency landing at Heathrow after a similar mistake by staff caused one of its engines to catch fire. This was caused by one of the hoods being left open overnight during maintenance checks. Three people were injured and the passengers evacuated from the plane during an emergency landing at Heathrow shortly after takeoff.

If there is a lesson to these tales, it is perhaps that whenever we step foot on an aeroplane, we are putting our lives in the risk of others. From the pilot and safety inspectors through to baggage handlers, we have to trust the people working on our aircraft.

But while no system will ever totally negate the possibility of a genuine human error, the procedures can clearly be improved. Gunther Mtschnigg of the International Air Transport Association says Airbus should consider redesigning its aircraft to make sure this doesn’t happen again. He also warned that the never-ending cost-cutting by airlines could be jeopardizing safety if staff have to cut corners to hit deadlines.

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